Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

I Love the Smell of New Upholstery


Today is my new car day, the day you look at the dashboard to see the mileage has yet to reach double figures.  The day you sit in the driver’s seat and push every button,  twiddle every knob and waggle every lever. The day you open the driver’s handbook then close it shortly after, never to open it again.

The day you keep glancing  out of the lounge window to admire the showroom shine that will soon fade. The day you resolve to take extra care of the vehicle,  not to race the engine, not to hit the kerb, not to scuff the paintwork and most importantly to keep the inside clean, tidy and free of litter.

I’m very lucky to be able to afford a new car even though it’s an infrequent event. My first car, bought secondhand in the 1970s rusted away before my eyes and I vowed never to suffer the same fate again.



A Model Railway, You Must Be Joking

british railWhen British Rail was nationalised between 1994 and 1997 we were told it would mean the end to the old dirty trains that usually ran late, the end of inflation busting rises in fairs, better customer service and more investment for the future. The model adopted for the nationalisation was to split the infrastructure from the train services. The latter would buy services from the former and the competition would help improve services.

15 years later and its all a mess. The train companies are walking away from their franchises because the economics no longer stand up. Was it ever intended that rail companies could make money during the good times and cut and run during the bad. How does that get competition into the market. Even a group of MPs have called the Railway franchises “a mess” and called for the arrangement to be reformed. They even went as far as calling for the nationalisation of the troubled East Coast mainline.

If you look around the world the successful rail services are all publicly run and heavily supported through taxation. The UK is a relatively small country and would benefit from an efficient rail service. The demand is rising all the time, passenger numbers have been increasing year on year for over ten years. A manifesto that included the nationalisation of our rail services would be very well received by the electorate. Pity neither the Conservative or Labour seem to agree with their own MPs.

A Ride On The Last Routemaster Route

Red RoverQuite by chance I was in London with my granddaughter in 2005 on the day that the Routemaster buses were being withdrawn after more than 50 years of service. We walked up Regent Street from Piccadilly Circus and jumped on a number 159 bus, standing on the open platform at the rear all the way up to Oxford Street. During the short journey I regaled my granddaughter with stories from my childhood and the many adventures we had on the old Routemasters.

Very occasionally in the 1960s myself and several friends would be treated to a red rover ticket which gave unlimited travel on London Buses, We would head off early Saturday morning complete with a packed lunch and a few extra shillings for something to drink. From where we lived it took several changes to get to the Mile End Road from where we could either head into the centre of London or take a bus under the Thames via the Blackwall Tunnel returning via the Woolwich ferry.

Our destinations included the Science Museum and all the displays with handles to crank, leavers to pull and buttons to push; St Paul’s Cathedral with the whispering gallery and the climb to the top of the dome; Hamleys toy shop in Regents Street, a treasure chest of toys we could never hope to own; or, if we were lucky enough to have money to spare one of the attractions which charged an admission fee such as the Tower of London.

The Fastest Thing On Three Wheels

Driving to the shops this morning I was passed by a Reliant three wheeler travelling at 75mph or more. The event reminded my of my father’s antics as a long time owner of three wheelers, including a Reliant Regal Supervan III. He seemed able to coax a considerable turn of speed out of the 850cc engine and regularly had the needle of the speedometer straining past the top of the scale. No doubt the lightweight fibreglass body was a great help together with his knowledge of the internal combustion engine.

Much to my mother’s consternation, he barely slowed down for corners and roundabouts, preferring to navigate on two wheels while leaning across the engine compartment that separated the two front seats to help balance the vehicle. As a child I found these aerobatics very thrilling and the reactions of the other drivers as we overtook them quite hilarious.

Occasionally a driver would seem quite offended that they had been overtaken by a three wheeler and immediately increase their speed to over take us. There was, and I presume still is, a great deal of camaraderie between Reliant drivers. You would always acknowledge each other by a wave of flash of the headlamps. In car parks he would make a point of parking as close as possible to other Reliants hoping to exchange a few pleasantries, anecdotes or spare parts with the owner.

Main Street America

Today I visited a museum to a road. It does not sound very exciting, but this is the Mother Road made famous in John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath, that was the subject of an American TV series in which two young men travelled across America, and was immortalised in a song by Bobby Troup, the rhythm and blues standard, Route 66. The route was officially removed 24 years ago, but it had became so ingrained in the American psyche that it has been designated a National Scenic Byway with many local preservation societies working hard to keep the dream and the actual road, where it still exists, alive.

The birth of Route 66 came at the same time that America was beginning its love affair with the motor car. The idea of driving from the east to the west became part of the modern American Dream, a mechanised version of the original trails to the pacific coast that originally opened up the west to settlements. There are few other roads that have captured man’s imagination and even though its a 20th century edifice in many respects it ranks along with the Silk Road that crossed Asia from Europe to China.

A considerable proportion of the route remains as side roads, local loops off the new Interstate roads and abandoned sections of road. Devotees make pilgrimages along its length with the purists avidly following every accessible inch that still exists. Along the route are museums, theme restaurants and many historic buildings from the 1920 and 30s. Even for a non-American there is an atmosphere about these places that is redolent of a more simple time and way of life. An American dream that remains just that, a dream.

The Memory Of Smells And Sounds

The Radio 4 programme ‘Music to drive to’ about driving moments people associate with a particular song or musical composition made me recall my own musical memory. In 1967, while travelling with my parents to our holiday destination in the South West of England our Reliant Regal van hit a large puddle, aquaplaned across the road and rolled over onto its roof before finally coming to a halt on the grass verge. Fortunately we all survived and the only thing damaged was the three wheeler which had lost its windscreen as the roof at the front collapsed. Being a van the remainder of the structure had withstood being inverted although there were deep gouges along one side.

At the time of the accident I was sitting among the suitcases in the back of the van surrounded by the musty smell of a canvas tent and listening to the radio which was playing the song ’Excerpt from a Teenage Opera’ by Mark Wirtz. Ever since that day whenever I come across the smell of musty canvas or hear that song the memory of the accident comes back as vivid as ever. The van turning over; the sound of the roof scrapping along the road; the heavy rain; the helping hands who pulled us from the vehicle and the shock at seeing all the damaged are as real as they were in 1967.

Sounds and smells are incredible memory joggers and do not seem to fade with time. They can influence people’s moods and even affect their work performance. They are used to help stimulate the minds of the elderly and those with brain injuries or disease. Somehow it seems these sounds and smells can cut through all the confusion and trigger moments of lucidity. Most of these memories are pleasant, unfortunately this one is still a little disturbing.

Monty’s 21st Century Crofting

Monty Hall’s Great Escape must be the best advert for holidaying in Scotland. The scenery on the west coast is stunning and the people who live there are welcoming and helpful. Its as good as it gets anywhere. Monty may not be living the true crofting life but his antics are very entertaining and the outside toilet a hoot. No doubt the country around Applecross will be very popular this year, I hope all the attention does not spoil the tranquillity of the west coast.

Mind you, its a big country, if you avoid the popular places such as Fort William and the crowds around Ben Nevis it is relatively quiet. In fact if you tour the coast you may bump into the same people time and again as you both travel from beauty spot to beauty spot. Its almost impossible to pick a favourite part of Scotland but the three places we find very enticing are Loch Teacius on the Morvern Peninsular, the Ardnamurchan peninsular and the Summer Isles.

I’m also intrigued at the history of the country, walk over the hills and you may come across the remnants of a settlement. During the highland clearances between the 18th and 19th century many thousands were moved off the land abandoning villages and settlements. You can hear the cries of the people as their homes were burnt down by the land owners to make way for flocks of sheep and herds of cattle. It was a time when humans were worth less than livestock. Its something that has happened in many forms and will no doubt happen again and again.